How to live spiritually in a secular world

Jul 5, 2023 | Insights

Spirituality comes from within, so evict your ego to make room for spirituality through generous relationships, compassion and stories.
“I just want my life to be more spiritual!” It is a common sentiment often followed by, “But I am not religious and don’t believe in a god.”

Here’s a fairly profound question which many have asked themselves. “Can I be a spiritual person without being a religious person?” You can, and as if to prove the point, I know some non-believers who are more spiritual than those who profess to be deeply religious.

There is a close connection between spirituality and religion, so religious practices could provide clues to living spiritually in a secular world. If we can work out what it means to be religious, we can think about how to mirror aspects of religion to achieve spirituality.

Lessons from religion

Karen Armstrong, author of “The Case for God”, suggests transcendence is a critical component of religion, the belief in something higher and more ethereal than the day-to-day, something natural, not artificial. And in the secular environment, you experience a form of transcendence in your friendships and connections, especially those grounded in love and compassion. One plus one becomes something more than two, so connections and relationships are essential to spirituality.

And Armstrong believes compassion is an essential element of religion in its own right. But, as we all know, you don’t have to practice a religion to practice compassion. Indeed, compassion is the most direct route to spirituality for those without faith because compassion is the antidote to selfishness, and letting go of self is at the heart of spirituality.

Finally, Armstrong points to the importance of ritual in religious practice. Religions emerge from a story, and believers re-enact the story ritualistically. Ritual gives form and voice to the founding myths and stories and makes real the transcendent.

Without a set piece founding myth, our own stories, successes and challenges stand in through ritualised retelling to answer the question, “Why have I come into existence and become exposed to life’s contradictions and vulnerabilities?”

Practice grounded spirituality

Spirituality is not a gift or an intrinsic state of mind. Religious and secular (or grounded) spirituality grows with practice, perseverance and discipline.

So, if you are looking for greater spirituality in this secular world, practice cultivating deeper friendships and relationships, practice compassion whenever possible, learn from the stories of others and tell your own stories in a ritualised way so others can learn from you.Spirituality comes from within, so evict your ego to make room for spirituality through generous relationships, compassion and stories.

Photo attribution

Photos by Noémi Macavei-Katócz on Unsplash

Audio link

https://audio.com/jeremy_deedes/secular-spirituality/

References

Armstrong, Karen. The Case for God. Toronto, Vintage Canada, 2010.

Take it further

Alain de Botton explores issues of religion in a secular world in his fascinating book Religion for Atheists (Alain De Botton. Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion. London, Penguin, 2013.)

Meanwhile, Karen Armstrong looks at spirituality from the viewpoint of nature in her recently published book Sacred Nature (Armstrong, Karen. Sacred Nature. Jonathan Cape, 1 June 2022.)

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